Safety boost for cyclists

JOHN HARVEY

Issuing SANParks rangers with state-of-the-art smartphones loaded with the world’s fastest instant messaging service is just one of the options Cape Town’s cycling community is exploring to address safety concerns on Table Mountain bike trails.

Cycling organisations are also considering recruiting participants in the country’s Extended Public Works Programme to patrol the area, while some groups have suggested co-ordinated volunteer teams, in the vein of a neighbourhood watch, to perform guard duties.

The effort to shore up security on the mountain comes after a revised environmental management plan (EMP) for road cycling and mountain biking in the Table Mountain National Park was released last week.

The revised EMP proposes several new trails to link up to the existing network, including routes from Plum Pudding Hill and Groote Schuur Estate to Rhodes Memorial parking, as well as future plans for trails in Newlands Forest and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

The existing trail on Plum Pudding Hill, which includes the Rhodes Memorial precinct, has proved especially dangerous for mountain bikers. In the latest incident, a cyclist was stabbed and robbed of his bicycle on Saturday April 2.

“Table Mountain National Park is in an urban area. You can’t manage it like you would other national parks which are away from the cities,” said Robert Vogel, chief executive of the Kenilworth-based Pedal Power Association.

“The borders of the park are incredibly porous, and the only way you are going to tackle the safety issue is to be as visible as possible. In an ideal world, people would change their moral compass and not commit crimes, but that is not being realistic.”

Mr Vogel said although SANParks rangers were already doing an outstanding job safeguarding the park, particularly crime “hot spot” areas like Plum Pudding Hill, making use of social media was the way forward.

“We are engaged in talks to provide rangers with smartphones so they can be linked to social media platforms like Telegram (the world’s fastest instant messaging service) and Facebook, so they can be in constant communication with one another, managements as well as cycling stakeholders,” he said.

“We are also looking into getting participants in the Public Works programme involved to undertake patrols. It’s all about visibility and communication.”

To date, the cycling community has contributed some R250 000 to the EMP process, much of which has gone into addressing safety concerns.

“We cannot put more pressure on the SAPS. If we want to be able to cycle on the mountain, we have to be prepared to invest money ourselves, which we are doing. Cyclists will pay if SANParks gives us the space to ride.”

Meurant Botha, chairperson of the Table Mountain MTB Forum, said the organisation was determined to not let crime drive cyclists from the mountain.

“We have been very proactive in encouraging a safety-first approach.

“We cannot emphasise enough that cyclists should always ride together in groups,” he said.

“We also have a massive database of riders at our disposal, and that’s why we are also looking at forming coordinated volunteer groups to carry out patrols, much like a neighbourhood watch would do.”

He said cycling had grown in popularity in the past five years and, unfortunately, so had the odds of riders being attacked.

“These days, a lot of riders are arming themselves with pepper spray before they go out.

“It has almost become part of their gear. While unfortunate, at least we can say that they have the right mind-set; that safety comes first.”

An encouraging sign was that in recent times all stakeholders – SANParks, cyclists and police – had begun to open the channels of communication with one another, Mr Vogel said.

“As Pedal Power, we engage at the highest levels, which means that any concerns we have are raised among people who matter.

“We have started a WhatsApp group for this purpose, so you know that any issue raised on the platform will be addressed and relayed to the guys on the ground.

“Cyclists are almost pioneers in a way. In the past, we have moved into areas and soon afterwards vagrants were gone and people felt safe again, improving the neighbourhood.”

SANParks spokesperson Merle Collins confirmed that spotting scopes were already being used in the Table Mountain Park.

“Park management fully supports all initiatives that will lead to a safe and secure park for its visitors. However, patrols by community members can only take place in consultation with the park’s visitor safety programme team and the Table Mountain S